Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On Buxom Ghosts & Scaling Drainpipes in The Ocean at the End of the Lane By Neil Gaiman

In Neil Gaimain’s newest adult novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the reader is left, like the protagonist, to wonder in introspection and awe.

Death is a prevalent occurrence in the novel that opens more doors than mortality usually sees fit to grant.  A funeral and a forgone trip back to the lane where the unnamed protagonist grew up sparks an incredible memory that the reader becomes completely immersed in.  With the recollection back forty years to childhood, he is struck with a vivid experience that, at eight years old, impacted him forever.

There the hungry ghosts lust for life and mischief and more.

Each of the characters in the book is memorable and extremely realistic, built on their own nuances and tendencies, like the father’s inability to make toast without burning it.  And there's Lettie Hempstock, the confident eleven year old neighbor, who is a kind and young farmer’s daughter but is also filled with strength and a mysterious experience beyond her years.

When the new nanny moves in, the boy finds himself in a fight for his and his family’s lives, and dark magic seems to surround everything around the lane. Ursula Monkton is a buxom beauty queen that is disarming in her appearance, utterly manipulative, and sickeningly powerful in her role running the family home. She is also pure evil.

Magic is further crafted in words throughout the book, from the dark shades of humor to the descriptive joys, like drinking warm milk just gotten from a cow for the first time. But it is also present in the bleak pull that outside forces have on life, from money and lust, to the creatures that feed on these human weaknesses and grow fat on them.

The memory is magic, the ghosts are magic, and the epic battles for the control of life are riddled with bits of magic while the tale goes forward at a thrilling pace.

As Mr. Gaiman admitted at the book tour’s American launch in Brooklyn, the eight-year-old boy protagonist often reflects the author’s own young life.  The childhood experience of climbing iron drainpipes in Sussex, England, for instance, is marvelously captured within Ocean’s pages. The back cover of the book contains a photograph of a smiling boy, Neil, perched devilishly high up on a ledge sans head. The purposefully cropped picture shows the feet on the edge, and the headless boy carefully balanced at an unknown, but surely dangerous height; this single glimpse into the young boy’s life emits a deep impression on the reader that is further emanated by brave, wicked, and memorable characters throughout the riveting story.

And as the boy struggles to persevere, with Lettie Hempstock and her ocean by his side, he wonders about their place, living in this magical world.

By R.J. Huneke; edited by Cassandra DeMario